A welcome mat for mi­grants


The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION - John Roe

Fac­ing a surge of asy­lum seek­ers il­le­gally pour­ing into Que­bec from the United States, the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment took nec­es­sary and de­ci­sive ac­tion this week. It or­dered in the army. But the mil­i­tary de­ploy­ment was not, thank­fully, sent out in tanks or to erect barbed wire fences to block the hun­dreds of mi­grants ar­riv­ing daily.

The sol­diers were there to pitch tents to tem­po­rar­ily shel­ter up to 500 peo­ple and to hand out lunch.

The ser­vice­men and ser­vice­women were build­ing a special re­cep­tion centre that will di­rect the new ar­rivals — mostly Haitians — to a pro­cess­ing centre nearby, and from there to emer­gency ac­com­mo­da­tions in Mon­treal.

Even­tu­ally, af­ter an of­fi­cial hear­ing, some of the mi­grants will be ac­cepted into Canada as refugees while oth­ers will be rejected and sent back to the U.S.

This is how Canada re­sponds to an un­fore­seen and chal­leng­ing in­flux of for­eign na­tion­als in 2017 — with hu­man­ity, com­pas­sion, metic­u­lously or­ga­nized as­sis­tance but al­ways an in­sis­tence that the bor­ders and laws of this coun­try will be re­spected.

In a world where lit­er­ally mil­lions of peo­ple are on the move flee­ing war, famine, poverty and po­lit­i­cal re­pres­sion, this is how wealthy, ad­vanced na­tions should be­have.

This summer’s crush of asy­lum seek­ers en­ter­ing Que­bec from New York State at ir­reg­u­lar cross­ings, like a sim­i­lar surge in Man­i­toba last win­ter, is largely the re­sult of the bla­tant hos­til­ity fac­ing mi­grants in Amer­ica in the un­set­tling era of Don­ald Trump.

In the first few months of his pres­i­dency, Trump has banned im­mi­gra­tion from sev­eral Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity coun­tries, planned to slash the num­ber of new­com­ers to the U.S. and per­sisted with the bizarre fan­tasy of a wall along the Mex­i­can bor­der.

One of the main rea­sons so many Haitians are now en­ter­ing Canada is that Trump is end­ing a special, tem­po­rary pro­tected sta­tus for 58,000 Haitians in the U.S., and many of those peo­ple fear re­turn­ing to their home­land.

While the asy­lum-seek­ers cross­ing over from New York are strain­ing the re­sources of the fed­eral and Que­bec gov­ern­ments, Canada is not yet deal­ing with an un­con­trol­lable cri­sis. This coun­try is man­ag­ing very well, thank you. Equally heart­en­ing is the lack of any no­tice­able pub­lic back­lash to these mi­grants.

Per­haps this re­flects a grow­ing aware­ness of the plight of peo­ple in many other coun­tries and our re­spon­si­bil­ity to help.

Per­haps pub­lic opin­ion has been shaped by the suc­cess­ful set­tle­ment of roughly 46,000 Syr­ian refugees in Canada since 2015.

Per­haps we see our choices more clearly with the xeno­pho­bic Trump in the White House.

Even so, in the com­ing days Ottawa should an­nounce plans for pro­vid­ing per­ma­nent or semi-per­ma­nent set­tle­ment for the mi­grants, as well as train­ing in lan­guage and job hunt­ing for those ac­cepted as refugees.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment must also be pre­pared if the cur­rent flow of asy­lum seek­ers — re­cently be­tween 250 and 300 a day — con­tin­ues into the fall. De­cid­ing who gets to stay is just the first step. Help­ing them suc­cess­fully set­tle into Canada and be­come Cana­di­ans is the sec­ond and even greater chal­lenge.

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